Writer’s block

Writer’s block…does this ever happen to you guys? It happens to me and it is especially terrible.

The weird thing is that I am not blocked on all fronts- just on one grant application that is especially pressing right now. I am doing a ton of writing this summer, and this will continue into the fall. Yesterday I edited a paper that a collaborator and I are working on and have been passing back and forth- no problem there. Took the whole thing apart, put it back together in a different order (he he he!). I have two more manuscripts I am working on- also no problem here. I’m not having any trouble with blog….

Here is where I am blocked- I am writing a grant with a different collaborator, and each of us is writing some parts. Excellent collaborator (EC) has sent me some parts to edit and fill in with details as necessary from my part. I’m coming in on someone else’s thought process and I am finding it very difficult to integrate our two sets of text, ideas and data. The words are just not coming to me, the framework for how to organize the text and ideas just isn’t in my head. AAARGH!!!

This is all ok when you are writing something that isn’t time sensitive. But grants have firm deadlines… not to be missed… so although I’m not particularly close to the deadline, it would be nice to be able to have a completed first draft ASAP. I’ve had this happen before when I was writing a book chapter that had a deadline, but that was a while ago and I can’t remember how I worked my way out of that one. I do remember though, that we were a month late with the text… not a good feeling.

I’m going to go back, look at the sections EC has already written, make an outline and try to fit the puzzle pieces together. Alternatively- or in parallel- I will write a specific aims page and THEN struggle with the text. Maybe biting off one piece at a time will help me get through this.


4 thoughts on “Writer’s block

  1. I’m not particularly close to the deadline

    Grant writing – ur doing it wrong.

    Well, according to lots of people I work with anyway!

    Maybe your part of the grant would fit better if your collaborator’s text was rearranged? I have had similar problems with coming in on other peoples’ drafts, and I find that a rough sketch of the total document structure, not just that of my part of the document, often helps.

    I also find it helpful to just start. It’s always easier to edit something than to write it from scratch. So I will jot down a couple of sentences that I know will be going into the document, even if I don’t know their exact position. I tend to think differently when I’m writing than when I’m not, and some connections and structures become clear mid-sentence.

  2. I usually find that when I can’t make progress on some item, it’s because there is a significant unknown, or intellectual problem, holding me back. E.g., I normally like writing but am stalling on a paper right now too–but I know the reason, it’s that I can’t decide how to approach Figs 5-6. Should I describe them as expected based on the literature? Should I describe them as kinda expected, but still interesting? And if so, why are they interesting? If they’re not that interesting, should they perhaps move to Fig 1-2 to get them out of the way? Ugh.

    Anyhow, the point of this little ramble is you may need to identify as closely as possible what conceptual or organizational problems are stymieing (sp?) you. But you probably already knew that 🙂

  3. Getting writer’s block on some fronts but not others happens to me all the time. It is very frustrating and I wish I had suggestions on how to break out of it by design. I usually just snap out of it after some time for no apparent rhyme or reason. Also, many times the final piece looks very different from the pre-block form—so it’s like my brain has to purge the original track, reboot and then find a new productive track. So now I just try to forget about the thing for a while. Which, of course, is a bit of a bad strategy if you’re under time pressure.

  4. Cath-

    I’m trying to integrate two pieces of text. I think it will be easier if I lay out the outline (or specific aims first) that way I’ll be able to see where all the parts fit best.

    Dr. J.-

    I think it is not this reason- although this happens to me from time to time as well. I think it is just that I don’t have the whole plan mapped out in my head as well as I would like. Sometimes I draw diagrams or flow charts (that actually get included in the research design) that lay out the whole plan.


    This is going to be my strategy for at least a couple of days. I am going to work on another manuscript that I am not having trouble with , and turn the pieces of the current grant over in my head for a couple of days. Then I’ll come back and hopefully have a fresh view!

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